Group's agenda: solve homeless problem

About 100 people, including top city officials, gathered Monday night to discuss a new community group's six-point plan to end homelessness in Costa Mesa within the next several years.

The Costa Mesa Partnership to End Homelessness invited residents to The Crossing Church to discuss its strategy, which includes providing some type of affordable housing.

Thirty-two people signed up to serve on six subcommittees focusing on research, immediate services, outreach, emergency shelter, housing placements and homelessness prevention, said Becks Heyhoe, director of the local Churches Consortium.

Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House Living Centers, a not-for-profit charity that provides affordable housing options to the homeless, is facilitating the group along with Heyhoe, Vanguard University professor Ed Clarke and other community advocates.

"This isn't about a charitable act that makes us feel good, but finding a solution to a problem," Haynes said.

In March, the Costa Mesa City Council voted unanimously to allocate $500,000 for permanent housing with support services for the homeless in Costa Mesa. Orange County-based Mercy House Living Centers will work in partnership with San Diego-based nonprofit Wakeland Housing to lead the charge in finding a possible site for the supportive housing and then operate the development once it's established.

The Costa Mesa Partnership to End Homelessness will support the city's endeavor, Heyhoe said.

Mayor Jim Righeimer spoke in support of the group's efforts during the meeting and encouraged community members to become involved in the process.

"If you feed someone for breakfast, they're going to be hungry at lunch, so we have to know how to go about changing this," he said.

Righeimer, who also sits on the board of directors for Mercy House, agrees that providing affordable housing is a crucial step to ending homelessness. He emphasized that the homeless people who will benefit from such housing will have a previous connection to Costa Mesa.

"We'll take care of our own, but we don't want to be a magnet," Righeimer said.

However, new housing will take a few years to plan and build, Haynes said.

In the meantime, the group plans to identify the number of homeless in Costa Mesa and offer immediate services to them through nonprofits like Share Our Selves, which provides food and healthcare to those in need.

A 2012 study conducted by the Churches Consortium and Vanguard University counted about 122 homeless individuals in Costa Mesa.

Dennis R., a 59-year-old Vietnam veteran who didn't want to give his full name because he is looking for work, has been living on the streets in Costa Mesa for the past four years.

"I lost my job as a banker for Wells Fargo and couldn't pay the mortgage on my house," he said. "I know I might not look homeless. I try not to."

Although he is without a permanent residence, Dennis plans to assist the Costa Mesa Partnership to End Homelessness in any way possible, he said.

"I want to find connections to help other people and maybe find my own way off the street as well," he said.

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